It’s been a long career full of highs, lows, mids and really low lows. As a designer one of the biggest downfalls of your career can be the mistakes you make off the drawing board. Your emotional attachments to your work can cause you more problems than prosperity. I signed on for this blog thing to help aspiring designers understand what this life is like, good and bad. With that said I feel that some of the mistakes I have made in my career should be shared to better help you understand what’s not a good idea in this game. Continue reading Stokes Life With Dallas Stokes: Sixth Sense Of Stokes…
Mistake No. 1: DON’T GET COMFORTABLE. I have in my career been handed a lot of rope to either hang myself or to rope in more opportunity. Now usually I have done well and with that success comes a false sense of security. You start thinking to yourself that as long as I am selling shoes I am an important piece of this company. WRONG!!! You only are as good as the last shoe you do and how much you help contribute to the entire vision of the company. No matter how good you and your shoes are doing you have to remember that in order for you to have that salary and the perks that you’re getting, the company was doing well before you. And it’s safe to say they will probably be fine after you get fired for being an egomaniac. Now don’t get me wrong, if you’re killing it there should be a certain level of respect given to you from the company. Usually that’s in the form of things like raises and promotions and various other stuff.
I had one gig that gave me anything my heart could desire. An office, raises, flexibility, and the power to do whatever shoes I wanted to do. I started thinking I was the man and I would challenge my boss and even say that there was certain projects I’m not gonna do because I felt they were gonna fail. I was right, however that was not my place. I should have had fact to back up my beliefs then still did the work and if it failed they would be able to say,”He was right…” instead of “He’s not a team player.” My comfort level and emotional attachment to my products and not my job got me canned!!!
Mistake No. 2: YOU CAN’T BEAT THE SYSTEM. Corporate culture is like high school in so many ways. You have the Teachers Pets (Butt Kissers), the Jocks (Athlete Endorsers), the Cool Kids (Your Co Workers), and the Nerds (Your Bosses and Marketing). Within these cliques you have to learn how to fit in and find your place. Often the ones that become teachers pets get the perks but lose the respect of everyone. Usually these guys are either really intelligent and sub-talented or just plain horrible. Man these guys can talk a good game since they never really contribute anything more than another arm for the boss to get his ideas out. I know it can be frustrating at times to watch a less talented butt leech get all the attention and face time. However one thing about these guys is they never last. What’s important in most cases is to try to be cool with everyone and stay under the radar. Work hard and soon your work and the numbers will make you the man. When you are the man nobody has to tell you because your check and everybody you work with shows it. Open yourself up and don’t be afraid to talk and ask for opinions and help. Designers are territorial by nature and you will get ripped off from time to time but you gotta be willing to play chess with your ideas in order to become a better designer.
I once worked at a company that brought me in as “The Man”. Once I got there I got shut out like Jordan at his first All-Star game. I was young and proud and thought to hell with these guys I’m gonna do me. My ego was so off the hook I literally refused to do certain projects and work with certain guys because I thought they were out to get me. Let me tell you they made me look like a fool and ate me alive!!! I was miserable and my work reflected it as well because while they told a more complete story I looked like an outsider on the wall. None of my shoes ever saw the light of day and the ones that did were horrible!!! I remember thinking after I left had I just been a little more open there is no telling where we as a company could have been. I really look back from time to time and think that that could have been my Tinker Hatfield!!! Now that company doesn’t even make shoes anymore and I blew my chance.
Mistake No. 3: THE BUTTERFLY AND THE FLY. From nine to five you have a job to do. From five to nine you have a life to do. Keep a fine line between your life and the job. There is nothing wrong with being a company man or woman and sometimes bringing the job home. However don’t get it twisted and bring home to the job. Stay in your lane and keep your personal life away from business. Coming to work trying to be the Social Butterfly or The Fly on the Wall is bad news. You get to opening up about your life at work and raising eyebrows and you could end up cutting your own professional throat. Office romances happen but trust me when I tell you they never end good unless they end in marriage.
When you work for a company one of your best friends or foes can be H.R. When they love you life at work can be a little easier then when they hate you and you’re a target. Watch what you say and do around the office. Having a bad day? Shut down or stay home. Watch what you put on your Facebook because they do, even when you’re just applying for a gig. Also when I’m working, if you’re at my desk gossiping you just turned one unproductive person into two. We can talk about life at lunch but don’t come to my desk to talk about the night before because I have already seen it on your Facebook!!! We all go through it in life and as designers that can hurt our creativity and your job. Think about it? How much do you really know about your boss? Know why? Cause he is your boss and he got there by portraying the proper corporate image.
Mistake No. 4: CHECK YOUR EGO. Now there is nothing wrong with having a ego as a designer. It’s actually good, healthy and keeps the sexy flowing. You should want to be the best at it or why do it? The one thing you have to understand is how to check your ego. The only time ego comes out for me is when it’s time to talk numbers and money. And even then I learned to put a nice suit and shoes on my ego. In the end you have to ask yourself whats more important? Is having everyone make you feel important more important than really being important? Michael Jordan and Chuck Taylor have had their name and logo on the side of shoes forever…not you. Your companies name is on everybody’s check…not yours. How many people outside of Nike’s walls can tell you who designed last year’s best selling Nike shoe…not me. So forgive me when I say it but it’s not about you. You can walk around with your nose in the air for so long before you start smelling that dog doo you stepped in.
There was a time when I had about eight employees working under me. I was an owner and me and my partner were at each other’s throats. We were going through the Ego Olympics live and direct in HD. When our employees saw this it immediately caused a divide in our company which ended up creating a cancer in the business. Some employees that wanted to back me felt bad but had families to feed so they backed my partner. Others felt like nine times out of ten D.Stokes delivers so we’re staying in his corner. It was like Dame Dash vs. Jay-Z (I was Jay-Z) battling over Roc-a-fella records. In the end both these companies died due to egos and lines being crossed and everyone including the consumer lost. Who had the bigger ego? Who cares? All I know is the brand is dead and two friends died with it.
Mistake No. 5: WALK BUT DON’T TALK. Don’t leave a company on bad terms as I have done in the past!!! As Jay-Z said,”Men lie, woman lie, but the numbers don’t.” So if you feel like you’re not being respected you can either work harder, ask your boss how you can contribute more, or move on gracefully to another gig that sees what you have to offer. The industry is small but everyone knows everyone. The person you burn that day could be the person who is in charge tomorrow. Understand that leaving with an attitude and thinking your new job makes you better is a big mistake. You’re not better, you just got a better opportunity. There is only a handful of Tinker Hatfield’s in our industry so for the most part if you have longevity in this game you will move around from time to time. My advice? When it’s your time to leave, whether you have been asked to go or you go on your own… COME AS YOU CAME. Be the same happy tempo as you were when you sat in your first interview. Trust me I know it’s hard but you left, or lost the job, so keep your dignity.
I have been fired, laid off, quit, it happens. One time, I quit and taped my badge and my corporate card to the door of H.R. and walked out without a care in the world. Dumb move because I still had to come back and do an exit interview so my little stupid stunt actually just made me look like an immature unprofessional little punk. In the end would I have done it any different? HELL NO!!! Why? Because I learned.
Mistake No. 6: NEVER LET IT STOP BEING FUN. It will always be a business and there will be times when you love it or hate it. However once it’s no longer any fun it will eat you alive.
I retired this year for three months and was no longer in love with the game. I went into film and promotions and basically tried to just have fun doing all the things I kept around as a hobby. I was having a lot of good times but it was nothing like the fun I had creating shoes for like eight hours straight while bumping The Black Keys and Biggie. I was walking through the mall one day and saw a kid wearing a pair of Protege Stackjack 1′s. I sat down and watched him walk until I couldn’t see him anymore. Thats when it hit me… Sometimes it’s not about having fun it’s about making it fun. Three days later I was back working. I can honestly say that of all the mistakes I have made in my career, quitting this business is one of the dumbest mistakes I could have made.
Dallas Stokes is a two-decades footwear industry veteran. His current shoe design projects include PEAK, Protege, Sean John, Rim Rocka, Van Grack, Militia Project, and The Dallas Stokes Collection. Read his interviews here and here.
Check out previous “Stokes Life With Dallas Stokes” posts: